Thursday, February 25, 2016

Great Writers Could Be Lousy People

Great authors write well and often.  They write from the heart, even a broken one.  They write from experiences, especially bad ones. They write in reaction to the world they live in, imposing their vision of how things should be.  They write from a deep sense of feeling, of knowing.  They are a gift to a society that needs more leaders, philosophers, and visionaries.  But what happens to the writer who sacrifices his body or life to his craft?

Maybe sacrifice is the wrong word.  I don’t know that writers willingly abuse their bodies so that they can write better but they certainly know they are slowly killing themselves as they seek to self-medicate against life’s misfortunes, losses, or mere ordinariness.  We know of many great writers who suffered addictions to various behaviors, substances and lifestyles that proved harmful to their long-term health.  The latest one to fall in this dark zone is Pat Conroy.

You may not recognize his name immediately, but several of his novels were turned into two of the best movies of the past 30-35 years - The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini.  He was just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  A few years ago he reportedly quit drinking after being hospitalized for a failing liver and high blood pressure.

Which one comes first – booze, brilliance, or behavior?  Does he drink in reaction to a certain behavior or circumstance in his life, and as a result, he finds his only true outlet – writing – or does he write in reaction to his life experiences but turns to booze to kind of regulate himself?

The order may not matter  I would find it interesting to see how many talented writers actors, singers, dancers, comedians, and artists rely on at least one significant addiction – drugs, booze, food disorders, gambling, sex. Heck, a big chunk of the population abuses something or someone, but I believe creative people are drawn to these things. They are curious, sometimes dangerous people who test boundaries while seeking a cure for life.  Some fall short and miss the dose.  See Elvis, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, etc.

So is one at a significant disadvantage if they don’t abuse their bodies, minds, or souls? Is it harder to compete with a writer who gets high every night?  Can you write as well as the person who slaps his girlfriend around while on a bender?  Can you create a book that’s better than the troubled young man who is down $30,000 to a loan shark after a bad night at the craps table?

Let’s look further into this.  Who is the likely better writer – the girl who stared down the face of a gun she pointed at herself at age 17 or the person who grew up in a nice neighborhood with a good family?  Does it take bad experiences for one to be a great writer?

On the other hand, there are plenty of people who suffered traumatic experiences where they were victimized or where they committed crimes or where they were around dysfunctional people – and none of them became writers.  There are millions of addicts, criminals, and people who suffer from a disability, loss, or life-altering event and not one has even picked up a pen to draft as much as a poem.

So having problems or witnessing terrible things is not a guarantee for writing success. Addiction and violence do not make an equation for automatic creative genius.

But somewhere in there is a formula for artistic prowess.  It would seem that the more one directly experiences, observes and witnesses or hears about third-hand, the more likely this person could be in a position to convey a great story.  Throw in some chemical balancing with drugs and the like and you may have designed the ideal candidate for producing a terrific book.  But you still need inner talent and drive, something that allows you to see what others don’t, to do what others can’t, to feel what others won’t let themselves feel.  Plus, you need to educate yourself about life, language, and certain waiting techniques.

Writers can’t just come from the factory.  They come from all kinds of experiences and from people with all kinds of abilities. What seems like the making of a writer for one’s life experiences may not work for a person with a similar background.

Still, it seems almost cliché to hear about writers who succumb to an addiction, but maybe the news just reports on them disproportionately.  For every creative type that lives on the edge, maybe there are plenty who live a relatively clean or normal life.

Maybe the author who drinks himself to death by age 60 is the best he could do for himself.  If he didn’t drink he may have hurt himself, in a different manner at a younger age.  Or he could have hurt others.  Or maybe he wouldn’t have been a prolific writer.

I can’t judge these writers for what they do in their lives.  That’s up to the law and to the people they directly impact.  If you suck as a husband and cheat or binge-drink and live a lousy home life, consequences will be had by his family.  But as a writer, I have no issues with you living the way you do.  As a writer/reader, I understand and appreciate that whatever a writer does could translate onto the written page.  Sometimes the lousier the life or the person, the better the book or writer.  Do I enable the reckless writers?

They’ve already scripted their destinies.

2016 Book Marketing & Book Publicity Toolkit

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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